Question & Answers with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Q: Gurudev, what actually is prayaschit? How can one become free of one’s sins? Can one ever become free of guilt, or is one doomed to live with that?
Sri Sri: ‘Prayas’ means getting back to the original state; ‘chitta’ means consciousness.
We were all born innocent. How is the mind when you are a baby? Fresh, alive, innocent. Prayaschitta means, that act which takes you back to your innocence; makes your mind as pure as it was when you came into this planet.
Rejuvenating the chitta, or making it younger and getting it back to its original state is Prayaschitta. It is not exactly repenting. There is no appropriate word in English for it. It means getting back into one's original state.
Krishna said this in the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. Look, you can’t get rid of your sins. I will take care of it for you. I will rid you of all your sins. You just come to me, that’s all.
Jesus also said that, in more or less the same words. All prophets and Gurus say that, 'You don’t worry about sins. If you take refuge, if you are devoted, then devotion removes all the sins'.
If you have any problem in life, don’t blame others. Basically, all problems that we face in life have something to do with us only. So a good saadhak (seeker) or student understands this and does not complain. If your experience is bad, who is responsible? You are responsible. Why? Because it is your karma that brings these bad experiences to you.
So a good sadhak (seeker) never complains. This was the ancient tradition, where you could not go to a teacher saying, 'This is not okay and that is not okay. That person said this to me. This person treated me badly'.
If someone treated you badly, it is your karma. You must have treated someone badly sometime. You could not complain to the Guru and saints of the earlier generation because they would say that it is your karma. You could only go to them with good news of wonderful things that happened.
But I listen to everybody’s complaints just so that they find some relief. If they don’t download it with me, they will do it with somebody else. But these days, I am also following the olden tradition. If someone complains, I tell them to deal with it themselves.
Q: Gurudev, in the Yogasutra, it is said, yoga is the restraint of the Chitta (consciousness). How can restraining the mind or memory bring freedom?
Sri Sri: It’s the mind that causes bondage. It’s the mind which clings on to things, or clings on to the dreams. Even after you wake up, the palpitation is happening in the body, because you had a nightmare. But when the mind realizes that it’s a dream and it comes out of it, then there is relief.
So mind is the cause for bondage and mind is the cause for liberation also.
Q: Gurudev, they say marriages are made in heaven, but why after this heavenly arrangement, does hell start on Earth?
Sri Sri: Contrast. Knowledge comes in opposition. Just like a baby cannot be created by one person, hell also cannot be created by one person. Whether heaven or hell, it needs two to create it.
Q: Gurudev, you ask people to vote for a better of India, but in the present scenario I am confused as I don’t find anyone fit for the job. It’s like selecting the least bad guy. What to do?
Sri Sri: You are correct. Less corrupt is what you should choose, as of now. But in five years, all the youngsters prepare and think of another alternative.
For now, change has to happen and we should choose the least corrupt. Give them a chance and if they are corrupt, we can discard them afterwards, but now is not the time to discard them.
Q: Gurudev, I feel free in certain areas, and in certain aspects I feel bound. The more efforts I put to be free, the more bound I feel. How can I be free?
Sri Sri: I think you have too much free time. Get busy and keep working for the betterment of the world and you will see that all your personal issues and emotional issues will get resolved by themselves.
Don’t waste time in thinking, what about me? What others think about me? How I feel, how I don’t feel? Who bothers about what you feel and what you don’t feel?
You feel bad one day, good another day. Who cares about it? And when nobody cares for your feeling, why do you care for your feeling so much?
At least learn from others. You are a great follower of others. Whatever they do, you follow. They don’t care for your feelings, why do you care for your own feelings? Throw your feelings out, listen to your intellect and see what you need to do. That is it. Know that whatever you have to get, you will get. Whatever is due to you, will come to you. And whatever you need to do, you must do it.
When you die, two questions will come in front of you. How much love you have given and how much knowledge have you gained? These two things are your life's lessons. What did you learn from life and what did you give out in your life?
Instead, we act as if it is the other way around. We want to give knowledge to people. Everyone is good in advising others. What they should be doing and how things should be. They don’t even spare the Guru. Every day, lots of advice comes to the Guru also on how things should be done. They will teach the Guru how to give blessing also.
'Give me proper blessing Gurudev. Put your hand on my head to bless me'.
Yesterday, a lady came to wash my feet, she took a bucket and started pouring water all over. So happy and enthusiastically, having waited for ten years and having got this chance to wash the feet of the Guru with a bucket of water. Then she took a coconut, moved it around me and banged it on the floor. The others around me got frightened and worried that the coconut may hit my feet. But you can’t say anything, or scold them when they are so happy, and filled with so much emotion, love and devotion.
People throw flowers from all sides. I really have to protect my eyes by covering it. As satsangs are at night, I can’t even wear sunglasses. Daytime, I wear sunglasses mainly to stop flowers from getting into my eyes.
One swamiji, in a village in India, would go on a chariot on a particular day. This was a tradition from 2000 years ago. The chariot used to be decorated very well but would have a mosquito net around it. I wondered why they put the net around, as you can see the swami only through the net. They said that the devotees throw coconuts and bananas (laughter). They want to give gifts personally in his hand.
Here also, people don’t see how many people are in front of them. They put their hands on top of several heads and compress people to make sure that their letter reaches me. What to do? These are problems, but we can't complain because love is blind.
But don’t think that I am encouraging this behavior. I want you to be disciplined.
Especially people who get to spend time with me should not come when there is a big rush. Some people push to come forward and sit in the front all the time. They don’t realize that other new people have come, and they should give them a chance also. Me, mine, I should go and sit. I should occupy my seat. Jumping over people’s heads, etc., to come and sit in the front. This is no good.
Those who bother and push and elbow others are not my favorite people. There are couple of people who don’t listen to me; even after my telling them one hundred times not to come, not to follow me. They are not my favorite at all. We must have some discipline. No doubt we have so much love, but we need discipline also.
I rarely give instructions, but even when I do, some are such hard nuts that they don’t listen. They just do what they want to do. I give total freedom to everyone and I never impose anything on them. That is why when someone asks, I say, the choice is yours and blessing is mine. But you should be sensitive and not create problems for others.
99.9% people are alright. There are only one or two such elements who break the rules, fight with the guards, etc. In that sense we are lucky. We have very nice and sensitive satsang devotees.
If everyone is disciplined, we don’t need any guards at all. When I go out, I don’t ask for guards but the Government gives me 100 policemen, gunmen, etc.
People who travel with me should remember that when there are such big crowds, sometimes thieves also come and they steal people’s purses, phones. They even pick-pocketed my cellphone once in a devotee’s house.
It was a small group of about 30 people. This guy came uninvited into the house and while I was talking to people, he took my phone. I have heard of people losing their phones, but this time in Punjab, I lost my phone too, that too in a devotee’s house. And the devotee cannot stop people from coming to visit Gurudev. Everyone feels a sense of belongingness and everyone walks into everyone’s houses.
Many Yes+ students lose their phones, that’s why I tell them to be more watchful of their belongings. Here too, if you see anyone stealing, catch hold of them. The thieves find it a suitable place as everyone is in bliss and they are not worried about their material belongings, so they relieve them of their material possessions, like their phones, passports, etc. So all of you be a little alert.
Q: I am very much confused about the caste system in our country. I belong to a Brahmin family from UP and I am in love with a person from a different caste. My father is opposing this. What should I do?
Sri Sri: You weigh the pros and cons. If your marrying is causing a huge turmoil and disturbance in the family and people are crying, wailing, yelling and creating a huge drama, then take a call on it and decide whether it is worth all that. Or make them understand and convince them that it is okay. You have only two ways to go.
Usually for the Brahmins, the main worry is about food and culture. Brahmins are vegetarians and sometimes the other castes may not be vegetarian, so that may be a big block for them. They may think that I can’t go to my daughter’s house and eat anything as they are not vegetarians. These sorts of barriers may arise. So you talk to them and convince them that you will keep your values and principles and you will instill that in the other family also.
If you can convince them happily, then go ahead. If not, you must weigh the pros and cons to see how adamant they are in their concepts or opinions and accordingly decide.
Take the middle path and not just my way or their way. Compromise!
Q: Gurudev, can destiny be changed by changing the name? Or by changing the spelling of the name?
Sri Sri: Some numerologists do say this. But listen, you are beyond the name. With small things like changing the name, or wearing some stone, can our destiny be changed? No. Your sentiment can change your destiny. If your feelings are pure, your heart is filled with love and prayer, there is meditation, and you do seva, that can definitely change your destiny.
Q: What is hell? Why was it created? When the creator gives so much love, why would He create, or allow the creation of something like hell?
Sri Sri: I have never seen hell, so I can’t say that He has created one!
Let us see this from a knowledge perspective.
There are two types of knowledge; one is based on Chemistry, and the other on Quantum Physics.
Chemistry, is based on the study of different elements, which have different atomic and molecular structures, and different characteristics.
In Quantum Physics, everything is considered to be just one wave function, it is all atoms only. It says, forget about the Periodic Table (the tabular arrangement of chemicals based on their atomic, molecular structure, and nature); there is no iron, copper, zinc; everything is just one wave function.
To say it simply, we can say, all this is wood. The floor is wood, chairs are wood, doors are wood, windows are wood, roof is wood, the whole building is wood; everything is wood - this is Quantum Physics. Chemistry is: the chair is not the table, the table is not the door, the door is not the roof, and the roof is not the floor; they are all different - this is Chemistry.
These are two different sets of knowledge needed in life. The knowledge of differences, diversities, definite objects and their qualities, and the knowledge of oneness.
Diamond and charcoal are virtually made of the same substance, but people wear diamonds on their ears, and not charcoal. In life, there is one aspect in which you see diversity, and there is another aspect where you see only the oneness; both are essential.
When you see that everything is one, meditation happens and that is samadhi; there is no two.
There is air inside the body, and outside the body. Every cell of our body is porous, and it is all space. Our skin is like a mosquito net, do you know that? If you take a piece of skin, and see it under the microscope, it is like a mosquito net. There is a lot of space in between.
How is a mosquito net made? It is made up of several holes put together; it is all empty space. Similarly, our body is full of the space element. You cannot say space is different, it is all the same, it is one. (There are three qualities of space, but we will come to that later, it is a higher knowledge.)
Recognizing that everything is one is Vedanta, meditation, samadhi.
What is the use of this knowledge? It helps you come to the present moment. You are lively in the moment, now!
What does not allow you to experience the oneness, the truth of Quantum Physics? It is the mind or the memory that clouds our vision, and does not allow us to see the vast sky.
How does that happen? Whatever has happened till this moment, it does not exist right now! In the flow of time, events happen, and they move away. No event stays. E.g., as we sit now, this is an event. It will finish in half an hour, we will go to our room, and this event will be gone. What stays is the impression of the events on the mind, in the memory.
As an event happens, the mind holds on to its impression. Thus, even as a new event comes, the mind is unable to see that afresh, because something is already written on it. It is similar to writing something on a blackboard. If some things are written on it and not completely rubbed off, then you cannot write new things. Even if you do, nothing makes any sense; similar things happen to our mind.
So how can we bring our mind to the total present moment? By understanding how the memory works.
What is the memory? The memory is like a dream. Every dream is nothing but a memory, an impression in the mind.
When you wake up from a dream, what do you say? ‘Oh, it was a dream’, and you put it behind, whether it was a pleasant dream or a nightmare. When you wake up, you say it is gone. Similarly, in any moment when you wake up (to the reality of the Oneness or absolute), the life force gushes in, and you see that whatever happened till yesterday is like a dream. The shift in your alertness, awareness, consciousness happens right away, and then you reach Quantum Physics. You switch from the Chemistry of Periodic Tables to the Physics of Quantum Nature. You realize, ‘Oh, everything, all events are just a dream! The whole world is a dream.’
What is this world? This world is an experience of the five senses.
Your experience of the world is through sight, smell, taste, touch and sound. All the knowledge that you hear is through sound. All that you read, you take it in through your eye sight. As this realization happens, no trauma can stay in you. Immediately energy gushes in and you realize, ‘Wow, this is so beautiful!’ A new dimension comes to life!
This is an exercise for you to practice.
For some time, suddenly wake up and see that everything that has happened till this moment is like a dream. Drop it! Have this doubt, this could be a dream; I am going to wake up from this dream in a few minutes.
When you recognize this whole thing is a dream, then suddenly all that anxiety, anger, sadness and sorrow, which is a result of hanging on to unpleasant events, disappear. Everything disappears and you become so free. When you surrender from inside you feel, ‘Wow, I am so free!’
To experience that ultimate freedom, what do you need to do? One day just shake your head and say, ‘This whole thing is a dream!’
This is only to kindle your awareness. As you are going into the dining hall, don’t tell me, ‘If this is all a dream, why should I eat?’ No, you have to do that!
Once, one of the great masters of our holy tradition, Adi Shankaracharya was telling his disciples that this whole thing is a dream. As he was walking, a mad elephant started coming behind him; so, Adi Shankaracharya started running.
Somebody later told Adi Shankaracharya, ‘You say that everything is a dream. The elephant was a dream, then why did you run?’
He said, ‘My running was also a dream!’
If you have a dream cake, you need a dream knife to cut it. You can’t take a real knife and cut a dream cake.
So, there are different levels of existence; this is truth. It is called the Principle of Duality.
This is also true but there are different things. A cannot be B, B cannot be C, C cannot be D. However, all of them are letters. If you say letters, A is a letter, B is a letter, C is a letter; all are letters in that category. If we recognize these two dimensions in life, our life becomes stable.
Q: Gurudev, I am 28 years old and I feel very depressed and sad when guys reject me from a marriage point of view. Nobody sees my inner beauty, and spirituality is becoming beautiful on the inside. What is the point in becoming beautiful inside when people judge from outside?
Sri Sri: Never mind, they’re not a match for you. They’re at a much lower level, just judging you from the outside. You’ll find someone really good who can understand you. You shouldn't be depressed about it. No. If you know your worth, someone who will recognize your worth will show up. Don’t worry.
Q: Gurudev, in Brazil a lot of people are looking for the meaning to life. But most of them don’t know the difference between religion and spirituality, and many a times, it creates a resistance. What to say to these people so as to not to create a resistance and bring them to love?
Sri Sri: That is why we have kept the name The Art of Living. It is very neutral, very acceptable to everybody. We are not talking about God unless someone asks.
The prejudice in the world is what is eating up the cohesive culture in the world. The cohesiveness of all cultures is being destroyed by prejudice and fanaticism. Some religious people think, 'My religion is the only religion on Earth. Only this will take me to heaven. Everybody else is in hell'.
If they think that only their religion takes one to heaven and everybody else will be going to hell, they create hell for everybody. You don’t need to find another hell anywhere else.
It is man's mind, it’s expression and behavior that creates hell on the planet. This is unfortunate. Unfortunately in many major religions of the world, many people think that way and behave that way. They are fearful.
If religion is based on guilt and fear, I tell you people are not going to blossom.
You are made to feel guilty, you are repenting all the time, and you’re always afraid, ‘Oh, God is going to punish me. If I sit with a man of another religion next to me, I don’t know what will happen. Satan is going to enter my head'.
Satan is already sitting as fear inside you, he doesn’t have to enter you. He is already there.
Same with thoughts like, ‘I cannot stand with women', or 'I cannot stand with men. They are different. They look different. They dress different'. Or 'That person believes in many Gods, or another God’.
Things like this are destroying the fabric of the planet Earth. It’s destroying the human fabric. Isn’t it?
In this country, there are many people who are coming and converting people. In this country, Hinduism was only a way of life. It was never called a religion.
In earlier days, people had their way of life, and it was so diverse. Some people honored the trees, and thought of God in the form of tree. Some think God is in the Moon, or in the Sun.
In Arunachal Pradesh (in the North-East of India, bordering China and Tibet), that province, they have a religion called Donyi-Polo.
Donyi-Polo means the Sun and Moon are their Gods. They honor the Sun and the Moon. They honor the mountains and the rivers. People go there (to Arunachal Pradesh) and convert them saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You’re worshipping nature. This is no good. You should worship my God.’
They impose it on them. For centuries they have been following a particular religion, and they tell them their religion is bad and try to convert them, and say, ‘You have to believe only in this book and only then you can go to heaven otherwise God is angry at you’.
They instill guilt in the hearts and the minds of these people. Families are broken, I tell you. These people who try to convert, they get a lot of money from abroad. They put conditions for medical, for education, everything. If you convert then you get all this. And these poor people are brainwashed and they pulled away from their traditions, and their religion.
If there are no good things in a religion, that should be done away with. Things that are not good should be dropped. But if there are good things, then why to destroy that culture?
Honoring nature or respecting nature is a beautiful thing to do.
Here in the Hindu tradition, there is this belief that if you want to cut a tree, first you have to ask permission from the tree. Then promise the tree that you are going to plant five of the same kind elsewhere.
People would say, 'I have to cut you because I have to build my home here'. They would talk to trees. They would talk with feelings and promise to plan five of the same kind.
So they would bring five small saplings, and keep it there and ask the tree permission and then cut it. This is such a good tradition. Shouldn’t this be honored and welcomed?
People who are educated in Harvard come and say, ‘You are foolish, you are talking to trees. These are all superstitions. You should not do all this. What is this ceremony? Why do you want to do this?’ And the village man is completely at loss. He’s been believing for so many years and suddenly someone comes and says you’re superstitious.
That is why I would say, we must respect some of the old traditions. This converting of people and saying, ‘Only my God will take you to heaven and other things will take you to hell’, this sort of fear psychosis in this country is increasing.
Even yesterday a gentleman was telling me how this sort of induction is happening. It is so sad. We should convert from religion to spirituality. Graduate from being stuck in the religious mindset to spirituality, where you recognize good things from everywhere and honor them all.
We need to see how we can break this ice of the fanatic mindset. I am sure slowly and surely we will succeed.